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Sturgill v. Schneider Electric

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 7, 2019

LISA C. STURGILL, Plaintiff,


          Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Lisa C. Sturgill filed this case against her former employer, Schneider Electric (“Schneider”), in Huntington Circuit Court on November 9, 2017, alleging that Schneider retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). (DE 5). Schneider removed the case here under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 on December 7, 2017.[1] (DE 1).

         Now before the Court is Schneider's motion for summary judgment (DE 31), together with a supporting memorandum and evidence (DE 32), filed on January 22, 2019. Sturgill filed a response brief in opposition to the motion on March 5, 2019, and Schneider timely filed a reply brief on March 19, 2019. (DE 36; DE 37). Therefore, the motion for summary judgment is ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Schneider's motion for summary judgment[2]


         Schneider, a company based near Boston, Massachusetts, is engaged in the manufacture of power distribution transformers. (DE 32-2 at 223). Schneider operates numerous facilities across the country, including a plant in Huntington, Indiana. (DE 32-2 at 223).

         Sturgill was hired by Schneider on January 9, 2012, to work at its Huntington, Indiana, plant and remained employed there until her termination on July 26, 2016. (DE 32-2 at 10, 223). Throughout her employment, Sturgill worked as an hourly-paid production worker and was represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local Lodge 2574 (the “Union”). (DE 32-2 at 33, 223). The terms and conditions of Sturgill's employment were governed by the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between the Union and Schneider. (DE 32-2 at 10, 84-126).

         A. Sturgill's Work as a “Winder” From January 2012 to November 2015

         From her date of hire until late November 2015, Sturgill worked as a “winder, ” which entailed winding the metal coils that go inside the transformers. (DE 32-2 at 12, 21). When newly hired, Sturgill successfully completed a 90-day probationary period and qualified for the position on April 9, 2012. (DE 32-2 at 12-13). The training was primarily done by experienced peers who worked in the same department, which was customary at the Huntington facility. (DE 32-2 at 12). Sturgill took notes as she was trained and kept the notepad at her workstation for future reference. (DE 32-2 at 13). After qualifying as a winder, Sturgill moved from the first shift to the second, where Tim Gerhart was her supervisor. (DE 32-2 at 17, 252). Sturgill, like all other hourly employees, continued to receive regular training on various aspects of her job functions. (DE 32-2 at 14).

         At the Huntington facility, two mechanisms are used to encourage employees to improve their performance: informal counseling discussions, which are memorialized as “documented discussions”; and formal “corrective actions.” (DE 32-2 at 16, 19, 224, 253, 256). Documented discussions are written summaries of one-on-one discussions between managers and employees on issues such as performance or conduct, and are typically used to correct issues before they reach the level of severity where corrective action is warranted. (DE 32-2 at 19, 224, 253, 256). Corrective actions typically follow five steps of progressive discipline as outlined in the CBA, which are: (1) verbal warning, (2) written warning, (3) written reprimand, (4) suspension, and (5) termination. (DE 32-2 at 16, 84-126, 224). Under the terms of the CBA, corrective actions expire and are removed from an employee's record if the employee completes six months without incurring another corrective action step. (DE 32-2 at 20, 84-126, 224).

         During her employment, Sturgill received 36 documented discussions, the highest number of any Schneider employee with fewer than 10 years of service.[4] (DE 32-2 at 224). Sturgill was not aware of all of these documented discussions. (DE 32-2 at 19-20).

         During her time as a winder, Sturgill received six corrective actions, several due to poor work quality. (DE 32-2 at 16, 136-47, 224, 253). However, three of the six corrective actions-those occurring in 2012 and 2013-were subsequently removed from her record in accordance with the terms of the CBA when they later expired. (DE 32-2 at 16, 136-47, 224). The remaining three corrective actions occurred in 2015-specifically, on June 12, 2015 (a verbal warning for failing to following the winding print); July 13, 2015 (a written warning for failing to follow the winding print); and November 16, 2015 (a “re-issued” written warning for failing to follow the winding print). (DE 32-2 at 16, 148-61, 224, 253). Sturgill grieved each of the 2015 corrective actions, triggering an investigation by the Union and Schneider. (DE 32-2 at 17-18, 224). In each case, the Union elected not to arbitrate the grievance. (DE 32-2 at 224).

         B. Sturgill's Work as a “Vent Cell Operator” From November 2015 to July 2016

         On September 9, 2015, Schneider posted an opening for a ventilated transformer cell operator (“vent cell operator”) at the Huntington plant. (DE 32-2 at 21, 163). Sturgill bid for the position, and because she had more seniority than any other employee who bid, she was awarded the position. (DE 32-2 at 21, 224). Sturgill moved into the vent cell operator position in late November 2015 and was assigned to the second shift. (DE 32-2 at 21, 224, 253, 257, 267). Because no second-shift employee was available to train her, Sturgill had to move to the first shift for her 90-day qualifying period; during this time, she was trained primarily by Justin Cole, a coworker. (DE 32-2 at 21, 224, 253). By this time, Gerhart had also moved to the first shift, so he continued to supervise Sturgill. (DE 32-2 at 21, 252).

         According to Sturgill, about six to eight weeks into her qualification period some of her male coworkers in the vent cell department-specifically, Cole, Brian Buck, Charles Curry, and Tom Haupert, whom Sturgill referred to as “the boys club”-began ignoring her questions and refusing to train her. (DE 32-2 at 22, 25, 226). Sturgill told Gerhart on about 12 different occasions that she was not getting the training she needed; each time Gerhart would assign an employee to assist her, and the designated employee complied. (DE 32-2 at 89-90, 253). This continued throughout Sturgill's qualification period, and she eventually qualified for the vent cell operator position on February 21, 2016. (DE 32-2 at 25, 165, 225, 253, 257).

         C. Sturgill's Internal Complaints and Schneider's Investigation

         Five days later, on Friday, February 26, 2016, Sturgill met with Christine Troxell, Schneider's Human Resource Business Partner, to make an internal complaint. (DE 32-2 at 32-34, 223, 225). She complained that a coworker, Neal Butcher, told her that he heard another coworker, Haupert, call her a “cunt” on one occasion. (DE 32-2 at 32-34, 167, 225, 230). She also complained that she had not received adequate training by her male coworkers in the vent cell department during her qualification period due to her gender, and that these male coworkers had also not properly trained other females. (DE 32-2 at 225, 230). Sturgill provided Troxell with the names of these females and several coworkers with whom Troxell should speak during her investigation. (DE 32-2 at 33, 225).

         Troxell began her investigation on Monday, February 29, 2016, and interviewed 27 employees individually that week, including all of the hourly employees in the vent cell department and any female employee who formerly worked in the vent cell department. (DE 32-2 at 33-34, 167, 225). After reviewing all of the employees' responses, Troxell concluded that Sturgill's complaints could not be substantiated, and to some extent were refuted. (DE 32-2 at 226). On or about March 7, 2016, Troxell briefed Tony Robertson, Manufacturing Manager, who was Gerhart's supervisor during the relevant period, and Jim Harden, Plant Manager, on her findings, recommending that Haupert should nevertheless be given a refresher training on Schneider's anti-harassment policy. (DE 32-2 at 226, 252, 256-57, 266). Harden and Robertson agreed with Troxell's conclusions, and Haupert underwent the refresher training on March 8, 2016. (DE 32-2 at 226, 257, 266).

         On March 9, 2016, Troxell met with Sturgill, Robertson, and Tim Riemke, a Union representative, to discuss the results of the investigation. (DE 32-2 at 34-35, 169, 226, 232). Troxell and Robertson claim that after Troxell informed Sturgill that she determined no harassment had occurred, Sturgill became angry, yelled and using profanity, and that at several points during the meeting, Robertson said “Lisa, language, ” in an attempt to get her to stop cursing. (DE 32-2 at 226, 234, 257). Sturgill, however, denies that she used “the F word” during the meeting. (DE 32-2 at 36). She testified, rather, that during the meeting Robertson became “aggressive” toward her, acted in a “threatening manner, ” and tried to “intimidate” her. (DE 32-2 at 35). She stated that he told her to “shut up about what was going on out in the floor about this investigation” because it was hurting production, and that “he was going to reprimand [her] if he heard of anything else.” (DE 32-2 at 35). At the end of the meeting, Sturgill asked Troxell to provide the outcome of the investigation in writing. (DE 32-2 at 34-35, 226, 257). Sturgill filed a grievance with the Union regarding the outcome of the investigation. (DE 32-2 at 226, 257).

         The next day, March 10, 2016, Robertson; Joe Kellogg, the Union chief steward; and Claudia Estrada, Schneider's Quality Manager, met with Sturgill and provided her the written outcome of Troxell's investigation that Sturgill had requested. (DE 32-2 at 36, 171-75, 177, 257). Robertson asked Sturgill to refrain from discussing her complaint or the investigation with her coworkers on the production floor during work hours because it was disrupting production; Sturgill responded that she would “talk to who [she] wanted.” (DE 32-2 at 35-37, 257, 264). Robertson also told Sturgill that he had received complaints from her coworkers that she was writing comments about them in her notebook. (DE 32-2 at 36, 258, 262, 264). During this meeting, Sturgill repeatedly interrupted Robertson, and Robertson eventually told Sturgill to be quiet and listen. (DE 32-2 at 36, 258, 264). Again, Sturgill felt that Robertson acted aggressively and in a threatening manner toward her during the meeting. (DE 32-2 at 35-36, 39).

         Eleven days later, on March 21, 2016, Gerhart issued Sturgill a written reprimand for wearing improper brazing glasses, which was considered a serious safety violation. (DE 32-2 at 182, 253-54, 258). Sturgill, however, had been wearing these same brazing glasses for the past two years. (DE 32-2 at 27, 179, 258). During Schneider's investigation into the incident and prior to the corrective action being issued, Sturgill claimed that she had obtained the glasses from a coworker, then later stated that she had obtained them from Fastenal (one of Schneider's suppliers of personal protective equipment), but then later admitted that both statements were untrue. (DE 32-2 at 26-27, 182, 254, 258). She then claimed that “the safety guy” two years earlier had approved the glasses. (DE 32-2 at 26, 179, 258).

         On March 31, 2016, Sturgill met with Harden and complained that Robertson had harassed and retaliated against her by being “aggressive” and “threatening” toward her during their March 10, 2016, meeting and by disciplining her on March 21, 2016, for wearing improper brazing glasses. (DE 32-2 at 39, 179, 227, 266-67). Sturgill asked that she have no further contact with Robertson, and that Riemke act as her Union representative if she was called in for discipline. (DE 32-2 at 39, 41, 179, 227, 266-67). Harden responded that all contact between Sturgill and Robertson could not be eliminated because he was her second-level supervisor, but Harden agreed that Schneider would wait for Riemke before presenting any discipline, except in the event of an emergency. (DE 32-2 at 39, 41, 179, 227, 266-67).

         D. Sturgill Files Her First Charge of Discrimination With the EEOC

         On April 28, 2016, Sturgill filed her first Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that: (1) she was subject to harassment based on her sex when Haupert allegedly called her a “cunt”; (2) Schneider failed to properly train her in the vent cell department because of her sex; and (3) she was retaliated against by Robertson after Schneider's investigation into her internal complaint. (DE 32-2 at 42, 81).

         Two months later, on June 29, 2016, Sturgill received a “suspension, ” the fourth step in the progressive disciplinary process specified in the CBA, for switching the shipping labels on two transformers. (DE 32-2 at 26-27, 184, 227, 254, 258). Even though this step is called a suspension, Sturgill was not required to take any time off from work and her pay was not impacted. (DE 32-2 at 29, 227). Sturgill ...

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